CABLEWATCH: Chris Matthews scams you on Ponzi!


Cable pals don't explain Ponzi: Gag us! At the end of Tuesday night’s program, Rachel Maddow previewed the fun we’d have with our very best pals the next evening. Gag us, the analysts said:
MADDOW (9/6/11): Programming note: Tomorrow at 8 PM Eastern, MSNBC will be the one and only place you can see the Republican candidates debate from the Reagan Library. NBC News and Politico putting on the debate.

As soon as it’s over, I will be anchoring MSNBC`s post-debate coverage from here in New York, along with Ed and Chris and Lawrence and all your other MSNBC pals. That’s from right after the debate, until about midnight Eastern. We’ll see you then starting at 8 PM Eastern tomorrow!
Did you know that Ed and Chris and all the others were “your MSNBC pals?” We didn’t know that either.

Rather plainly, Maddow creates a clubhouse atmosphere on her program, making her more gullible viewers feel that they’re part of a very cool club. For example, she tells us who said funny things at the day's staff meeting. Often, Maddow herself made the funny remark. In this way, she helps us learn how to adore her more perfectly.

In this instance, we thought of the way the Mousketeers would self-announce at the start of each program. Maybe our pals could come running out at the start of these special events, shouting things like “I’m Ed!” and “I’m Chris!”

“I’m Howard!” “I’m Lawrence O’Donnell!”

That said, how well did our pals perform Wednesday night? They performed very poorly.

In the most striking part of that night’s debate, Rick Perry announced, several times, that Social Security is a rank "Ponzi scheme." He reinforced a notion the plutocrats have pushed for decades—the idea that younger people will never get a dime from Social Security.

This is one of the oldest canards in the plutocrats’ war against public knowledge. And this particular play has been very successful. The public is massively disinformed about the future prospects of Social Security. Surveys have made this fact depressingly clear for several decades now.

The public is massively disinformed about Social Security’s future prospects. For one example, consider a comment from a Gail Collins reader.

The comment was appended to Collins’ latest fatuous column. As he or she started, the commenter quoted Collins’ amusing remark about Perry’s Ponzi scheme comment. Then, the commenter showed us the depth of his disinformation. In the process, he probably misinformed other readers of this very high lady:
COMMENTER 487 (9/8/11): “Young Americans, if you dream of someday running for president, try not to write any books calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme."

If SS continues unchanged, the fund will be exhausted by 2037. Given how even attempting to touch SS is considered political suicide, I'm not convinced it will happen. In 2037 I will be 50 years old. So chances are I'll pay into the system for the majority of my working life, and get nothing out of it. Forget a Ponzi scheme, the system is set up to rob my generation, quite literally.

The system HAS to change, somehow. People won't like it. They'll kick and scream, and throw a fit about it. But there's no choice. I'm a young voter who went in for Obama. I'm about as liberal as they come. I don't know if Perry's intentions are pure, or if his solutions to the problem are correct. But at least he's acknowledging the problem, which nobody else seems willing to do.
This young voter has been thoroughly disinformed about Social Security. He thinks that when Social Security’s “trust fund” is exhausted in 2037, the program itself will cease! But then, the plutocrats have worked very hard, down through the years, to disinform the public about this very point. People like Collins have rarely used their platforms to discuss this giant problem—to discuss the disinformation campaign being waged against their own readers. It’s a great deal more amusing to talk about Mitt Romney’s hair!

Like tens of millions of other Americans, Commenter 487 has been grossly disinformed. It probably hasn’t entered his head that he knows so little because he reads horrible people like Collins—people who regard the serious affairs of the world as an amusing lark for their very high class.

In her column, Collins enjoyed a chuckle about what Perry said. She didn’t stoop to explain why Perry’s remarks about Social Security constitute disinformation. But then, Collins had a lot of ground to cover in yesterday's column. She discussed Romney’s hair, his poor abused dog and that wonderful “joke” about Gore.

By the time this horrible lady was done, readers like Commenter 487 were still highly disinformed.

Unfortunately, things were little better when our pals at MSNBC “analyzed” Wednesday's debate. Is Social Security a Ponzi scheme? Is it true that younger voters will never get a cent from the program? For several hours, our pals wasted everyone’s time with pseudo-analyses of “the politics” of the debate. But no one stooped to explain what was wrong with the substance of what Perry said.

Finally, two hours into this nonsense, Melissa Harris-Perry was summoned. As the analysts lustily cheered, she showed how easy it is:
HARRIS-PERRY (9/7/11): Ron Paul is capable of that kind of line questioning, but he didn’t go there. And instead he really pushes Perry to become more extreme. And that I think is distressing. You know, that and the kind of constant refrain that Social Security is irreparably broken in its funding stream, which was repeated both by Perry and by Romney. Because Social Security is not irreparably broken.

It’s so— It’s actually one of the most easily fixed issues in sort of the American political system. That—every time I hear that repeated, and repeated with the refrain, “We all agree that, of course, it`s irreparably damaged”—I think, for me, that’s the only thing that allows a Rick Perry, for example, to get a foothold with young people who don’t know that it could be actually quite easily fixed by simply withholding payroll tax from a higher percentage of income from earning Americans. It could be fixed tomorrow.

MADDOW: Melissa Harris-Perry and Michael Eric Dyson, thank you so much for sharing your insight with us tonight.
Harris-Perry’s presentation was clear, concise and correct on the substance. It’s astonishing that the rest of our MSNBC pals still hadn’t explained these basic facts, two hours into their program.

Their performance that night was dumb and disgusting. In the process, all our cable pals let Collins' commenter down.

That said, the most intriguing performance came from one of our sociopathic pals, the always dishonest Chris Matthews. In this, the evening’s first Q-and-A, Matthews—now described as a friend, not a pal—seemed a bit upset by that “Ponzi scheme” comment. You could pretty much tell that our pal didn’t like that remark:
MADDOW (9/7/11): We’ll begin with our friend Chris Matthews, who is live from Simi Valley. Chris, what’s the headline for you here tonight?

MATTHEWS: Well you know, I thought about halfway through, Rachel, that it was and still may be the “Ponzi scheme” reference you pointed you. The fact that Governor Perry backed up an earlier charge on his list of attacks on the establishment, the fact that he did so strongly, calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme, using other words—I think that’s the lead in The New York Times tomorrow, I would bet.
Our friend never quite explained what he thought about the substance of that Ponzi scheme reference. But as he continued, he hammered Perry for being “anti-science.” He said that Perry “is leading the charge, the Luddite charge against modern technology and modern information.”

Our pal has been repurposed.

Our pal didn’t seem to approve of Perry’s “Ponzi scheme reference.” How could viewers know that this very same person, one of their pals, has referred to Social Security as a Ponzi scheme all through his horrible cable career? Here we see him playing some Hardball in late 2007, with the late Tim Russert as guest:
RUSSERT (11/5/07): Senator Obama had said that he had, would have everything on the table for Social Security, and now he’s limited that as well. So all of them can be scrutinized. But I think, Chris, the important thing for voters who are watching this, it’s more than just a game of primary versus the general election. They’re waiting for leadership.


RUSSERT: And if you’re going to make tough decisions as a president, you have to answer tough questions. What are you going to do? Show us how you’re going the lead us. Everyone knows Social Security, as it’s constructed, is not going to be in the same place it’s going to be for the next generation—Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives.

MATTHEWS: It’s a bad Ponzi scheme, at this point.

But then, our pal had talked that way all through his MSNBC career, during the bulk of which he served as house boy to GE chairman Jack Welch. Here we see him all the way back in 1998. He spoke with Rep. J. C. Watts, Republican from Oklahoma:
MATTHEWS (11/9/98): Congressman, let's talk about the issue that's really affecting everybody out there. That's whether we take a Social Security system which is basically—well, it's sort of a Ponzi scheme right now. People who are working pay into it, people who are retired get their money out. We call it a trust fund, but basically it's workers working now paying for people who are retired now, and that's the way the system works. Let's face it and be honest with it.

But the— One of the arguments that's being made, that we ought to take it away from that sort of Ponzi scheme and go to a far more dynamic system of letting people invest a portion of their portion of the money they're forced to save by the government, because we do believe people ought to have some money when they get old, and invest it in the private market in equities, in the stock market, or whatever. What is your party position, or the position you'd like to fight for, that's different than the Clinton position? Because you know in the end, Clinton's going to end up fighting for the status quo, because the unions and everybody's going to back him on that. He's not going to want any interesting new privatization kind of proposal here. And what is your proposal?
Our pal has been at this a very long time. And of course, he’s a horrible person.

Commenter 487 is disinformed because of horrible people like Matthews. Maddow is paid to let you know that he’s your pal, her friend.

(Reported pay: Maddow, $2 million per year. Matthews, $5 million.)

Final point: Harris-Perry did a very good if very short job with a very basic matter of substance. The analysts loudly cheered her when she did. That said, our pals should have explored the substance of Perry’s remarks about Social Security all through the evening, going into a bit more detail while keeping their basic framework simple. But our pals didn’t seem to care. How hard can it be to observe this?

Your fellow citizens are massively disinformed. Your cable pals are horrible people. Your pals keep urging you to name-call your neighbors. This doesn’t work well in the end.

UPDATE/Deceived by our pal: Uh-oh! Later on, Matthews let us think that he very much dislikes that Ponzi scheme reference. “Those people” think that way, he said. But only at their most vicious:
MATTHEWS (9/7/11): What I liked about it, as a person, like we all do who tries to understand American political debate, it was the first hard indictment of the establishment. It was an indictment. He said it was a Ponzi scheme, a crime.

I mean, he’s basically saying something that the Tea Partiers, at their most vicious, if you will, believe.

FINEMAN: Rick Perry uses very tough, accusatory language. You know, he talks about Ben Bernanke being treated ugly down in Texas. Ben Bernanke might be treasonous.
For two decades, Matthews spoke that way himself. But now, this horrible person has been repurposed by the firm. How bad is it to say “Ponzi scheme” now? Why, it’s something the tea party folk will believe. But only at their most vicious!

This is an ugly, name-calling tribal scam. And it keeps us divided and conquered.

In a rational world, this man would have been off the air decades ago. In the corporate media world, we're told he's our pal, Rachel’s friend.


  1. Sarah Palin is noticed by a New York Times columnist saying something sensible:

    CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS — Let us begin by confessing that, if Sarah Palin surfaced to say something intelligent and wise and fresh about the present American condition, many of us would fail to hear it.

    . . .

    She made three interlocking points. First, that the United States is now governed by a “permanent political class,” drawn from both parties, that is increasingly cut off from the concerns of regular people. Second, that these Republicans and Democrats have allied with big business to mutual advantage to create what she called “corporate crony capitalism.” Third, that the real political divide in the United States may no longer be between friends and foes of Big Government, but between friends and foes of vast, remote, unaccountable institutions (both public and private).

  2. Thanks for informing on this disinformation campaign--to put it overly politely--re. Social Security, which TV and other media have repeated for too many years. The point of which must be the avoidance of repaying excess payroll deductions commingled and spent from the general fund.

    Who directly benefits from this misinformation? And how can we hold them accountable?

    Like the new link color.

  3. Clearly you're right that Matthews has been appallingly bad at his job for a long time. Still, I think Williams and that Politico guy deserve some mention, too.

    Not that I was surprised by it, but those two were especially derelict in the follow up to Rick Perry's doubling down on the Ponzi scheme nonsense. Perry flat out said that Social Security would not be there for future beneficiaries: "It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you're paying into a program that's going to be there."

    That's a claim about a matter of fact. It would have made for a better debate to follow up with and ask: "Given that Social Security will still be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits after the trust fund is exhausted, how can you justify saying that it won't be there?" Instead, the follow up was about Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.

  4. "Given that Social Security will still be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits after the trust fund is exhausted, how can you justify saying that it won't be there?"

    * * * *

    If, for example, a company can only pay 75% of the principal due at maturity, that's called a default. It's not cause for celebration that only 75% of a scheduled payment is made.

    The Trustees of Social Security issued a report in 2011 with the following conclusion:

    "Projected long-run program costs for both Medicare and Social Security are not sustainable under currently scheduled financing, and will require legislative corrections if disruptive consequences for beneficiaries and taxpayers are to be avoided.

    The financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare should be addressed soon. If action is taken sooner rather than later, more options and more time will be available to phase in changes so that those affected can adequately prepare."

    The trustees include the current secretaries of Treasury, HHS and Labor.

    Potential question for the current president and GOP contestants: Given the conclusion of the trustee's report, what are your plans to make the program sustainable?

  5. Perry tells a schoolchild there are gaps in evolution science and the whole nation there's a growing skepticism among "scientists" as to climate change. But he's 100% sure, apparently, that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.

    Is he 100% sure it was a coyote he gunned down? Do you know where your poodle is? Maybe Social Security would work better as an MLM at that. After all, isn't the CEO of Amway a libertarian?

    I was in a Texas Books-a-Million the first time I saw a copy of "Fed Up" a few months ago. I felt a shudder. "Oh, god, Gov. Goodhair's running for president," I whispered to myself, remembering I was in Texas wearing an Oklahoma sweatshirt. "Naaaaaaah! He wouldn't stand a chance," I self-countered, exercising my usual political acumen. "Molly Ivins once said he was a better-looking Geo W Bush with less brains. The country wouldn't tolerate it."

    Why do I insist on overestimating the American electorate?

  6. Anonymous 8PM:

    Seventy-five percent of scheduled benefits does not equal zero, though. That 75% would still represent a higher real benefit than what workers receive now.

    Is it a cause for celebration? Not exactly. But it shows that the fix(es?) necessary to keep Social Security in long term balance are relatively small. There's a pretty big difference between 93 million Americans receiving about $1200 a month as would happen in 2038 under current law and those same Americans receiving $0 as Perry implies.

    I agree with you that candidates' substantive proposals to fix SS are important and should be asked about. Certainly, it's far more important than what Karl Rove thinks. However, realistically it's impossible to get a politician to say what precisely they would do on Social Security. As you suggest, "What changes would you make to this Ponzi scheme?" was a blindingly obvious follow up.

  7. Some Guy:

    Thanks for the reminder RE Williams and Harris. I plan to do some "days of Ponzi" this coming week. I agree RE their weak follow-up.

    Eighty percent of scheduled benefits doesn't equal SS not being there. Since Perry was merely restating his previous stance, they should have been prepared.

  8. There are reasonable fixes to Social Security, such as raising the upper cap on income taxed. It is not a "Ponzi scheme," and whenever someone like Perry utters such claptrap, a real journalist should and would, in a follow-up statement or question, correct him.

    But the GOP, many Democrats, and their financial backers do not want reasonable fixes that involve lifting income caps or returning taxes to prior rates that did not impede economic growth. They do not want progressive taxation. They also do not want to revert to the reasonable marginal federal income rates under Clinton. They refuse to allow returning the capital gains tax to prior, reasonable rates. They also have fought taxing hedge fund managers at the same rate as successful professionals like doctors and lawyers, let alone janitors and executive secretaries.

    These very powerful people, who control the Congress and the President, do not want any taxes that are going to force them to live within the admittedly gilded financial constraints that they once did, which is to say, like barons and baronesses as opposed to kings and queens.

    And They are steadily getting their way.

    And we are getting nothing.

    On top of which the rhetorical, economic and political barrier preventing the destruction (privatization) of Social Security keeps getting hacked away by the people who used the US economy as their casino and nearly destroyed everything. Something has got to give.

  9. Something I am fond of telling my legislator is that if she can solve a problem for 50 years, she will have done a truly outstanding day's work. Ronald Reagan was never very high on my list of favorite political people, and he didn't do it alone, but in 1983 he solved one of the most important and pressing financial problems of his day, by stabilizing the Social Security system, not forever, but for about 50 years, give or take. As the most partisan of Democrats my evaluation of his reforms through gritted teeth now, is that he didn't do all that bad a job. If only the politicians of today could do as well.